Swimming in the Ottawa river?
August 16, 2009 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Is the Ottawa river good for swimming in?

Specifically around the Westboro beach area. I know there is red / green flag posted on the beach, I assume for E. coli, but I am also nervous about heavy metals, crazy radioactive runoff, or other evil humours.
posted by ~ to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I wouldn't. Used to live a few minutes walk from there. You can't even lie on the hill without ants constantly annoying you. The concession food sucks. Mooney's Bay beach is probably a safer bet with all the news about sewage being dumped into the ottawa river, but then there's parking issues, and I don't recall any food stands. One of my former colleagues liked to go swimming in gatineau park, lac phillipe and the meech beach (o'brien p11 parking). There's the kanata wave pool as well.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:55 AM on August 16, 2009

That said, people obviously do swim there and I've never heard of anyone dying in the many years I was in the area. They do do regular (daily I think) water testing. Thay'll close it if it's reallyunsafe
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:00 AM on August 16, 2009

Best answer: The City of Ottawa gets its drinking water from that very same Ottawa River, though it is treated first.

Radioactivity levels are well below Canadian guidelines.

Water at four Ottawa beaches is tested daily for E. coli (which seems to be the canary in the coal mine: "When high levels of E. coli are detected in beach water, other disease-causing organisms are likely to be present and may pose a risk to your health.") At Westboro beach, no-swimming advisories are issued for 24 hours after more than 5 mm of rain.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine swam yesterday in the Rivière des Prairies, which branches off the Ottawa after it merges with the St. Lawrence, and lived to tweet the tale.
posted by zadcat at 10:27 AM on August 16, 2009

My daughter swam at Westboro beach twice in the last 3 days, and has been in the river regularly for the last 10 summers, including some days when the red flag was up. So far no ill effects.
posted by valleys at 11:48 AM on August 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the info and suggestions. Wish I could find some actual testing numbers for heavy metals. Hard to complain with Gatineau park & other great swimming spots nearby.
posted by ~ at 11:57 AM on August 16, 2009

If you haven't already browsed it, this ottawa water quality report may be of interest.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 1:01 PM on August 16, 2009

sorry, that's a few years old
posted by hungrysquirrels at 1:02 PM on August 16, 2009

Best answer: Ingestion of large quantities of heavy metals is bad, as is chronic low dosage, but as far as I know no heavy metals in the water are likely to affect you through skin absorption. Even if you swallow a little water, that's not going to be a large enough dose. When you see concerns about heavy metals, that's due primarily to ecosystem effects, including biomagnification of concentrations in fish (which is why there are recommended limits on eating fish from a lot of inland waters in North America).

Metals can also be a proxy for other kinds of pollution, the same way E. coli is a proxy for human and animal waste contamination. A lot of feces, fertilizer, pesticides, petroleum products, and metals get washed into the river with every storm. If the city is monitoring water and recommending when and when not to swim you should be fine.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:37 PM on August 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks!
posted by ~ at 7:48 PM on August 20, 2009

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